Grant could make the difference for addicts

A partnership between the Clermont County Mental Health and Recovery Board and the Clermont County Court of Common Pleas is hoped to create a much nicer environment for recovering drug and alcohol offenders.

A new grant for nearly $300,000 over the next three years, plus funding from both the Mental Health and Recovery Board and Court of Common Pleas, will be used to create a program that gets drug an alcohol addicts into recovery situations faster than was previously available.

“With the funds, we’ll be placing two staff members at Clermont County Common Pleas Court for drug and alcohol issues,” said Mental Health and Recovery Board executive director Karen Scherra. “One will do assessments on offenders, and the other will provide services in groups to those offenders who need them. They’ll then have direct access to treatment very quickly in a specialized group. These will be high-risk offenders.”

According to Judge William Walker of the Court of Common Pleas, the idea is to make things happen in a more realistic fashion for these offenders, who may not be able to wait long periods of time to get help. Those long waits, said Judge Walker, mean more offenses.

“Bruce Gibson and I saw a problem,” said Judge Walker. “We were asking folks who needed immediate help to wait. We looked for a solution, and Karen Scherra helped us put this grant together.”

“We were getting treatment for people in the past, but the way that the treatment providers were organized, there was a delay,” added Judge Walker. “It was nobody’s fault, it’s just the way it works. Now we get the evaluations done right here immediately, and get the referrals made. It’s a boon for us.”

If it works as expected, Scherra said that the program will be the standard operating procedure in the future. Primarily dealing with drug and alcohol abuse, but also branching into mental health issues when necessary, the program will put high risk addicts into recovery procedures almost instantaneously, allowing them a better chance of recovery over recidivism.

“Because of the excess demand we’ve had for services, and the flat and cut funding, the waiting list has continued to increase,” said Scherra. “There was real concern from the common pleas court side that some offenders were re-offending while waiting for treatment. This helps our system, not only because of the increase in capacity, but it introduces services that are proven to work with this population. The court will use risk assessment with the offenders to determine who is most likely to benefit from treatment and who is in the most need of treatment. This takes the new advances and blends them together.”

Previously, while efforts were made to get these offenders into treatment, Judge Walker said that the waiting time was, at best, unrealistic. For instance, said Judge Walker, addicts to deadly illegal drugs were caught, reprimanded, and then left hanging for months to wait for help for their addiction. Now, they can be assessed and assigned to help while in the courthouse.

“The grant will enable us to assist the needs of these offenders earlier in the process,” said Judge Walker. “More importantly, it lets us make a referral for those Clermont County residents who need intervention for drug and alcohol abuse to get treatment. In the past, we’ve had situations where it could be up to 10 weeks after that person is actually found guilty before any type of assessment is done. Treatment is needed, and it’s a situation where you tell a methamphetamine addict that you know they have a problem, but they need to wait for help. It’s not realistic or good for public safety. We set them up to fail, and if they fail, society bears the cost for it.”

The grant, which came from the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, will be supplemented with $60,000 from the court of common pleas and some funding from the Mental Health and Recovery Board, which will administer the program.